Review: Lamborghini Vies for SUV Dominance With the 2023 Urus Performante

Can the record-breaking, track-tuned monster handle the humdrum of everyday driving?

March 17, 2023 7:16 am
The 2023 Lamborghini Urus Performante SUV in yellow and black driving off-road in the dirt
Not the normal place you'll find a Lamborghini...

When Lamborghini introduced the world to the Urus back in 2017, the company dubbed it the world’s first “super-SUV.” Although the term seemed frivolous at the time, it was understandable that a brand known for exotic sports car performance would want to shield itself against the inevitable accusations that it had gone soft. 

In the years since, the concept of engineering supercar capability into a high-riding, family-friendly vehicle platform has caught on with enough luxury automakers to make super-SUVs a legitimate segment of the industry. And with that, of course, comes increased competition for the hearts and wallets of well-heeled buyers. 

Much like the Aston Martin DBX707 that we recently tested, the Urus Performante builds on the already-formidable capability of the automaker’s standard sport-utility offering. But whereas Aston Martin was willing to trade some of the DBX707’s performance prowess for a more palatable driving experience in everyday use, the Italians have opted to go hardcore here.

Some of the rationale comes from the Performante designation, a moniker which has become synonymous with Lamborghini’s track-focused models like the Huracán Performante, the no-nonsense, V10-powered missile that managed to snag the Nürburgring production car lap record from Porsche’s 918 Spyder hypercar back in 2017. The Urus Performante has a record of its own to crow about as well: Last year it broke the production-SUV lap record at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, beating the previous record holder — a Bentley Bentayga — by nearly 18 seconds. 

The 2023 Lamborghini Urus Performante SUV in yellow and black
This is no ordinary Urus.

Bragging rights tend to pay dividends for exotic marques like Lamborghini, but in order to secure them with the Urus, the automaker needed to apply an array of tweaks throughout the vehicle. The company first put the SUV on a diet by utilizing carbon fiber for body panels as well as various aerodynamic elements, while the standard exhaust was swapped out for a new lightweight titanium system, and the combined efforts are said to have reduced the curb weight by 104 pounds from the original Urus. The fenders have also been widened in order to accommodate wider wheels and tires, while new air extractors on the hood, a new front splitter and larger rear wing work together to increase downforce at speed by 8%. 

There’s more power on tap, too. The twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 nestled in the engine bay has scored a 16-horsepower bump in output that raises its peak figure to 657 hp, though peak torque remains unchanged 627 lb-ft. The eight-speed automatic transmission has also been re-tuned for sharper response, and a shorter rear axle ratio is equipped to deliver more urgent acceleration.  

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These sorts of incremental upgrades have a tendency to add up to meaningful performance improvements in svelte sports cars, and they certainly move the needle in the right direction here, but they’re ultimately less impactful in a vehicle that tips the scales at nearly two and half tons. The Performante’s biggest performance gains are really found in its chassis, as Lamborghini opted to ditch the standard air suspension from the Urus for stiffer traditional steel springs that lower the SUV’s ride height by more than three-quarters of an inch. Those widened fenders also allow for some truly prodigious grip thanks to the wide, ultra-grippy Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tires that Pirelli developed specifically for the Urus Performante. 

The rear end of a yellow Lamborghini Urus Performante super-SUV
There’s nothing utilitarian about this super-SUV.

Normally found on uncompromising, track-honed coupes like the McLaren 765LT, Lamborghini wisely chose to make these tires optional equipment, and our tester wore Pirelli’s more street-friendly P Zero summer tire. Considering the fact that this SUV is far more likely to be found cruising Sunset Boulevard than hunting down apexes at Laguna Seca, that decision makes a lot of sense to us. But it also highlights some of the cognitive dissonance that’s inherent to the Urus Performante. 

Many of the upgrades here are welcome in practice. The new active exhaust system, for instance, sounds fantastic — especially in the performance-oriented Sport and Corsa drive modes, along with the Performante-exclusive Rally mode. The latter is designed to deliver tail-happy shenanigans on dirt and gravel roads, but you may want to swap out those Trofeo R track tires before hitting the trails.

Other changes require some compromise, however. Aided in part by standard rear-wheel steering and active torque vectoring, the Urus Performante is remarkably nimble out on twisty mountain roads, displaying reflexes and body control that handily bests rivals like the DBX707. But the ride is punishingly stiff everywhere else, even in Strada drive mode, which puts the suspension’s active dampers in their softest setting. Although it isn’t an outright deal-breaker, it is a concession that we’d prefer not to make in a vehicle that, if we’re honest with ourselves, will spend the vast majority of its days being used for everyday driving tasks. 

The Performante’s shortcomings are pretty easy to overlook, though. Like the standard Urus before it, it’s explosively fast in a straight line, and despite a 40-horsepower deficit, the model-specific performance upgrades allow the Performante to narrowly outrun the Aston in the sprint to 60 mph as well as the quarter mile. When it came time to rein in the pace during spirited stints out in the canyons, the stopping power offered by the 10-piston calipers and massive 17.3-inch carbon ceramic rotors proved equally impressive. A firm, fade-free brake pedal inspired us to put increasing amounts of faith in the Performante’s ability to rapidly scrub off speed when needed. 

The driver's seat, dashboard and center console of the Lamborghini Urus Performante
Lamborghini eccentricities: charming or annoying?

Since the Urus borrows much of its technology from Lamborghini’s sister company Audi, both its driver assistance systems and infotainment feel genuinely contemporary, with the latter offering fast response, wireless CarPlay functionality and a pair of sharp touchscreen displays. The design of Lamborghini’s drive mode and gear selector system feels purposely obtuse, however: While park, neutral, reverse and manual shifting modes are accessed here, putting the transmission in drive can only be performed by pulling on the paddle on the right side of the steering wheel. And since the drive mode selector only moves in one direction, switching modes often requires cycling through a number of other ones in order to get to the one you want. 

Minor eccentricities like these could certainly be interpreted as part of the charm. And much in the same way, the aggressive suspension tuning could be considered appropriate for a machine that’s capable of setting lap records. It’s hard to fault Lamborghini for making an earnest effort to produce a version of the Urus that lives up to the Performante badge. At the same time, this is a sport-utility vehicle that trades a not-insignificant dose of everyday usability for performance advantages that can rarely be utilized outside of a road course. 

For those who are specifically seeking out the top dog among the current crop of super-SUVs, and willing to pay $260,676 (the starting price for the Performante), that probably won’t matter much. As for the rest of us, Lamborghini would be happy to direct your attention to the new Urus S.

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